Fr. Palinuro’s ordination is scheduled for 7 December in a ceremony led by Cardinal Sandri with his entrance in the Cathedral of Holy Spirit 11 days later. Fr. Andrea Santoro’s legacy means remembering that evangelization is "a risk" to be taken "without fear" while keeping "doors open". He can start with an established relationship with the ecumenical patriarch while the dialogue with Islam will be a great challenge.
The vocation of the Catholic Church in Turkey is "to keep Christ alive and present" in the Eucharist, in a land where "one can bear witness to the Gospel" with deeds but where it is more difficult "to proclaim it with the word,” except perhaps “if one whisper it,” said Fr Massimiliano Palinuro, until recently a fidei donum priest in Trabzon.
Recently appointed by Pope Francis as the new apostolic vicar of Istanbul, he is currently in Italy, preparing for his episcopal ordination scheduled in Ariano Irpino (Italy), his home town, on 7 December.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, will lead the ceremony, concelebrated with the local bishop, Sergio Melillo, and the current Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, Bishop Paolo Bizzeti.
His entrance in Istanbul’s Cathedral of the Holy Spirit is set for 18 December, and will be a festive occasion for the entire community.
Ordained priest on 24 April 1999, the future bishop has an experience as a teacher and nine years in fidei dunum mission in Turkey. Despite this, the appointment came “unexpected and unwanted”.
In Turkey, he started at the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Izmir, followed by the Vicariate of Anatolia as parish priest in Trabzon, where Father Andrea Santoro was shot dead in 2006.
“Father Andrea is important spiritually. For this reason, I asked to be sent to Trabzon after Izmir,” Fr Palinuro explained.
“His testimony and spirituality are a point of reference to integrate into Turkish life and an inspiration for my mission, which began with a pilgrimage to Tarsus, Saint Paul’s birthplace. A nun told me that her presence in Turkey was to keep a lamp lit in front of the tabernacle.”
A few months ago, the local community “marked the 15th anniversary of his death,” he noted.
At present, the local Church is experiencing hard times; many have left, some have stayed while others remember his teachings after meeting him.”
Father Andrea taught the so-called "liturgy of the door: welcoming, greeting, smiling, simple gestures of daily life" to keep open a channel of dialogue and exchange.
While the Pope urges us to do this, to have “an open Church”, in Turkey “doors are often closed and guarded". Through Father Andrea’s death we learnt that evangelisation is "a risk" that we must take "without fear” because it is the “only way to break down walls and prejudices”.
Father Palinuro will replace Bishop Rubén Tierrablanca González, who died last December from COVID-19.
“I don’t know much about Istanbul because I didn’t think my presence was needed”; thus, “I will have to learn more about a complex reality” that includes the Catholic community and other Christians. This will require an approach based on ecumenism.” As for Islam, it will be a “great challenge” along the path of interfaith dialogue.
However, he has an “advantage,” i.e., the “solid ties established with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew", with whom a solid "work path" is already in place.
For Catholics, "the challenge is to continue serving refugees”, some 4.5 million, both official and undocumented, so as to guarantee continuity "to the existing projects and works like schools, hospitals and welfare centres.”
With respect to Muslims, there are differences between the various regions, Istanbul vs the rest of Turkey. In general though, a climate of "cordial relations" prevails which some peculiarities, such as “the interaction with Sufism”.
Lastly, Fr. Paliduro hopes to Turkify more the local Church, which has been hitherto largely foreign, especially staffed by missionaries, so that the local language is little used.
"This year, a young Turk will start his first year of seminary; we hope he will be the first seed that will lead to the growth of the local Church.”